In Chaise Lounge’s seventh album, there’s swoonworthy original music, a timely reference to downloadable lyrics and chords, and a recipe for Gin Fizz Fandango (provided by the band’s bassist, Pete Ostle). Gin Fizz Fandango also happens to be the title track of a new album, released on Sept. 10, 2015 (Modern Songbook Records).
This is no ordinary jazz album. This is what they call a “cheeky” character album full of flirty flights of fancy perpetrated by musicians who take on the air of guys and dolls in a ballroom brawl — all in good fun.
The D.C. sextet features Charlie Barnett on guitar and piano, vocalist Marilyn Older, bassist Pete Ostle, percussionist Tommy Barrick, trombonist Joe Jackson, and reed man Gary Gregg. Barnett, a film composer, wrote 11 of the 12 songs, save for Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me.” Older plays piano on two tracks.
Chaise Lounge has been around since 1999, when the musicians jammed together at one of Barnett’s recording sessions. Ever since, they’ve jammed all over the country on the strength of a tight rhythm section, limber horn players, and the sweet, Betty Boop vocal style of Older.
The music is as retro-hip — think the Depression and the Prohibition, circa 1920-‘30s — as it gets, gently swinging, a little tongue-in-cheek in the hopscotch lyrics, tickling traces of a forgotten soundtrack from another era, even daring in places (a horn vocalese from the actual “Hopscotch”).
The overall vibe does feel like sipping on a fizzy cocktail, the bubbles tickling your nose, whether trombonist Jackson slides in on a slinky tango throughout the “Gin Fizz Fandango” instrumental or Older swinging on a pop song like “You,” where the lyrics go down as easy as the spring in the step of the horn players.
“You’s” particularly fetching for its cute, clever use of tempo to swing fast and slow, to a tantalizing crawl on the bridge home (“here’s where we end once we circle again, let’s drive real slow breathing in as we go”). Older also does quite a nice rap over the swizzle stick of horns at the 3/4th mark without faltering or needing a breather: “You accidentally brush my leg, and I go falling hard again, all you have to do is breathe your perfect love inside of me.”
Chaise Lounge isn’t a sit-and-listen band. The musicians play serious retro-dance grooves, the kind that would give the “Dancing With The Stars” cast a serious workout. Listen and bust out the moves on “Mambo Noir.” Be silly with the children tip-toeing around in a game of Hide-and-Seek on “Pigs In Blankets.” Slow-waltz in a timeless haze on “If I Never Get To Paris,” mostly on trombonist Joe Jackson and pianist Charlie Barnett’s melodic lines. Do the tap-dance shuffle with grandpa on “Celestial Navigation.” Older scat-hums (la-da-da-da-da-dum) through this gem of a closer.
Lest you assume it’s all fun and games over at Chaise Lounge’s Gin Fizz Fandango, the band turns down the lights for the grim emotional reaper, “I See You.” Older turns up the lonely, still sweet but sweetly aching for the fulfillment of real recognition “when the world looks the other way, I look in your eyes and say, ‘I see you.’” This one’s pure vocals, pure bliss, with the musicians mostly keeping time and exacerbating the loneliness and fear — pianist Barnett pressing urgency in only a handful of chords over and over, bassist Ostle illuminating the darkness, Gregg sampling a taste of that exquisite agony on his sax.
The true test of a remarkable band is its schedule. Chaise Lounge’s is jam-packed. The next performance is 8 p.m. March 4 at the Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel, Md., then 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. April 6 at Blues Alley in D.C.
I enjoyed this CD so much that I played it twice, and no reviewer can give higher praise than that. And the inserts were a reviewer’s dream – all the song words were supplied, with a short and accurate description of each track, photos of all the musicians, not just the vocalist, and musicians listed as above in an egalitarian way, the drummer not left till last, nor the vocalist mentioned first. The impression given is one of genuine teamwork.
And the CD is full of jaunty fun, only one sad song, a CD suitable for parties and also for quiet listening. Indeed many tracks are very danceable too, so I’d recommend this disc to our local Newcastle Swing Dancers. It includes “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” played with a distinct two-beat. There are 3 other standards; “Cool” (from West Side Story), “Via Con Me,” and “Old Man River.” Nine tracks are originals with lively, witty lyrics, and there is a short joke track which you can use to check out your stereo! Many of the original songs have a jazzy 1930s feel. To quote from one of the track descriptions for “It’s Always You,” “…Tommy Barrick’s groove with Pete Ostle is insistent and funky, the horn lines are as hip as can be, and the melody is an ear-worm….” For an example of amusing lyrics I quote from “I Just Want All My Stuff” (a song about divorce): “He hopes that we’ll stay friends/and that we’ll stay in touch/Me? I’m kind of hoping/He gets run down by a bus.” The title track, “Dot Dot Dot,” is about a love affair seen as sailing through choppy waters, so Morse Code is part of the song. Other song themes include a fantasy about little blue men, loving a man because of his trendy car and complaining about a date who keeps you waiting. The instrumental of “Old Man River” is fast with a stunning drum solo.
Chaise Lounge have been together for 12 years, are well known in the USA, and have 6 albums to their credit. The CD was issued in September on Modern Songbook Records.
FAME is actually the acronym for the “Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange” on acousticmusic.com. We’re delighted with critic Mark S. Tucker’s FAME review of Dot Dot Dot…especially as it regards Marilyn’s dramatic effect on the fictional Father Flaherty:
Don’t let the Dot Dot Dot CD title or the non-descript moderne cover artwork fool you. Chaise Lounge doesn’t engage in Kraftwerky bleep blopp music nor synth-drenched electronica, nor even minimalist glitch, but instead a return to the groovy elder cool of the 50s and before. Not the zany looniness of Spike Jones but the cut-up hipsterism of Louis Prima and ilk, much more mannered and urbane than Jones but just as enjoyable in its own way. There’s plenty of swing, era jazz, jivin’ jump, and that sort of thing, all of it led by a cat named, now get this, Charlie Barnett. Yep, just one little ‘t’ away from the great Charlie Barnet of bygone fame.
The song “Dot Dot Dot” isn’t about any dot.com, it’s not an ellipsis, nor even a sing-song redundancy but a reference to Morse code, an element of the S.O.S. distress signal, here applied to a metaphorical ship sinking in the sea of love, a way hip cut with Marilyn Older singing in her perennially slinky, sultry, sexy near-babydoll voice beside five highly talented and letter perfect instrumentalists (clarinet, trombone, drums, guitar, bass). Older’s sensuality would make a bishop sweat bullets, grow red in the face, and kick out a stained-glass window, but Barnett (guitar, piano, accordion, tenor banjo) and the boys ice the situation back down, putting the hold-on to the go-on as Father Flaherty hip-sways a little jig back to the sacristy to doff the vestments and deck out in reet pleat and pompadour.
Apparently the concert audience favorite is “The Coolest Car,” an infectious tune, but I’m going for “I Just Want All of my Stuff,” just as humorous but of the sort that drives home what happens when two lovers meet, love, lose, split, part, and get down to brass tacks:
I just want all my stuff
My TV and my Xbox and the records I love
You can keep your dreams
And your precious self esteem
I just want all of my stuff
…and, man o man, I think Barnett was listening in on a couple of my own romantic flame-outs. Everything’s not all grins ‘n’ giggles, though, as “Split in Two (Wreckage)” is a dead-set serious ballad of a marriage gone terribly wrong, sung in a light wistful tone but weighted down with confusion and memories, the good against the bad, wondering what the heck happened. This is the penultimate number, a superb and thoughtful but heart-panged track, just before a speedy instrumental version of “Old Man River” closes everything out.
Still working to make retro modern, this east coast band scores again. Outstanding musicians. Smart lyrics. A vocalist who knows how to both sing and play with the lyrics.
And best of all, they all seem to be having a lot of fun.
Lyrics (“I Just Want All of My Stuff”) like:
He wishes all the best for me
And hopes I’ll move on soon
Well I’ve got myself a rental truck
And I’ll be out by noon.
Who pulls this off? Marilyn Older gives the voice to Charlie Barnett’s lyrics, always taking the high road, throwing this stuff off with a straight face. In the process, she gives new life to old classics like West Side Story’s “Cool,” or a very uptempo “Via Con Me,” with English lyrics to Paolo Conte’s Italian classic that’s been covered more than two dozen times in the past 30 years.
But while covers can pay the rent, it’s the original stuff that gets noticed. Mr. Barnett has the material, and Ms. Older delivers the goods.
It would be a disservice not to say that for me, Ms. Older’s vocals are the capper to a versatile group that includes Pete Ostle on bass, Joe Jackson on trombone, Tom Barrick on drums, and Gary Gregg on sax and clarinet. They’re able to take this kind of material – and in a world that’s been Mad Men-ed to death, pay homage to both the past, and to make it sound fresh, too. The band shows their stuff on two instrumentals, one the original (Mr. Barnett, again) “Señor Hueso,” the other on a very uptempo “Old Man River.”
Highest recommendation for this sixth disc from this band.